New England Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill spent much of his free time and in New Orleans rebuild in the hurricane-damaged city where he grew up.
However, the former Louisiana State University star's latest visit home for Memorial Day weekend turned tragic when he and a female friend ventured out on Lake Pontchartrain on a jet ski without life vests on Sunday.
The two ended up falling into an area of swirling currents near where a major shipping canal runs into the lake. While the woman survived by grabbing a pylon and holding on to it until she was rescued, the 24-year-old Hill, who friends described as a good swimmer, drifted away and disappeared until searchers discovered his body on Monday about a quarter of a mile (400 meters) from where he fell in.
"I lost a brother, man," said Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green, a fellow Louisiana native and former LSU player. "He was a funny guy. ... He'd just sit there and talk to you, say some funny things off his head that'd make you laugh. He was good to be around."
Hill played on the LSU team which won the U.S. college football championship, and was a second-round draft pick by New England in 2004. He had yet to start for the Patriots, playing in 13 games in his NFL career.
"We have suffered a stunning and tragic loss," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a written statement. "Marquise will be remembered as a thoughtful and caring young man who established himself as one of the year-round daily fixtures of our team."
The rescued woman, whose identity was not immediately available, told authorities that Hill tried to keep her calm as the two were drifting away from each other.
Hill's agent, Albert Elias, said the player spent much of his time since Hurricane Katrina helping rebuild the homes of family members including his mother, Sherry, and the mother of his 2-year-old son.